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Man charged with stealing Inland Empire fire hydrants, presumably to sell as scrap metal


Mike Hurst was driving down the street in San Bernardino County earlier this month when he saw a man dressed in an orange vest walking away from a fire hydrant.

Hurst, an 11-year veteran of the West Valley Water District, lost track of the man as he left in what looked like a white utility truck. But Hurst, 34, had taken the first meaningful step in solving the case of the missing fire hydrants in Riverside and San Bernardino counties.

On Tuesday, Hurst was driving on Riverside Avenue in Rialto when he again saw the truck. This time, he decided to conduct a stakeout, following the man to the parking lot of gas station, and then to a house in Rubidoux, west of Riverside.

Hurst called a San Bernardino County Sheriff’s scrap metal theft investigator. The next morning, deputies arrested Brian Burian and charged him with allegedly making off with 45 fire hydrants in a broad area of the Inland Empire.

Investigators said Burian, 45, allegedly used a five-to six-foot-long “valve key” to shut off the water, removed the bolts holding the 80- to 100-pound hydrants down and hauled them away -- all in broad daylight. 

The theft of metal to sell as scrap -- such as copper wiring, bronze fixtures and iron from construction sites -- is common, especially during a prolonged economic slump.

But water district and law enforcement officials say stealing hydrants is decidedly off the beaten path. When hydrants are lost, it’s usually because a car plowed into one. It will cost up to $1,800 to replace each of them, some of which had to be special ordered because water districts don’t usually see a need to keep a stockpile of them.

Eldon Horst, general manager of the Jurupa Community Service District, which had 16 hydrants stolen, said no mere hack could pull it off. “This person had some skills,” Horst said Friday. “It’s too bad he was not able to apply them in an effective way for himself, his family or whoever he was close to.”

Burian allegedly dismantled the hydrants and took the parts to scrap metal yards, including one in Colton, where Hurst said they found buckets with 287 pounds of scrapped hydrants -- worth about $500. But the thefts took place over at least three months.

Scrap yards can be charged with a felony for buying fire hydrant parts. In 2008, a state law was passed making it a felony for scrap yards to buy stolen scrap metal. In this case, the hydrants were cut into relatively small pieces, making them harder to identify.

--Hector Becerra

Photo: Dave Reading, a foreman for the Jurupa Community Services District, flushes a newly installed fire hydrant in Riverside's Sunnyslope neighborhood.

Credit: Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times

Comments () | Archives (22)

And of course the thief running the scrap yard knows nothing.

This is definitely off the beaten path. He must be quite desperate to do such a thing in broad daylight. I hope his family is OK.

The cost of oxygen and acetylene to cut of the metal made the profit negligible. He was doing it for fun.

Why doesn't this guy work for a metal fabricator or similar? He obviously has advanced skills, most folks can't steal a hydrant then dice it into pieces. And Scootysdad, you probably care more about the suspect's family than he does. That's why you're not out stealing stuff.

I remember people doing this in third world countries like Columbia and Brazil, but they were stealing pot hole covers from roads. I'm sure his court costs will erase in sort of profit the moron made.

pathetic - anything for a buck or two with no consideration for the fact that it's THEFT

"stealing pot hole covers from roads"

Oh no! don't give anyone any ideas!

"Hurst, an 11-year-old veteran of the West Valley Water District?"

somebody is slipping on their job.

how old was hurst when he started working ? ....an' 11 year old' veteran of the water department !!! imagine his pension !!!

most fire hydrants are cast iron!!

Yeah he did it for fun lol. Like driving all the way to Colton to recycle a ton of iron is fun.

Death penalty case.

Stupid idiot steals hydrant City pays $1,800 for, cuts it into pieces and sells for $166 scrap value.

Singapore would cain him and nobody else would touch another hydrant.

The scrap yard could not figure out these were parts of fire hydrants ?

How many pieces did he cut it into? How much labor did he have to put into it just to make a few bucks?

And why did it take the city 3 months to catch on, shouldn't they have alerted all the scrap yards after the first one or two went missing?

Make the scrap yards that bought the clearly stolen metal hire the guy and also pay a hefty fine. Make him pay the money back that it costs to replace them by working there , make him install the new hydrants, THEN give him 6 months to a year in jail, then 3 months of community service picking up trash and repainting graffiti and finally a years probation. That should put out his fire !!!

Chattle please! This is obviously a crime of passion. When a man sees a fire hydrant he must have, he'll have it at any cost. That hydrant was asking for it.

I wonder if he could have been charged with manslaughter if some had died in a fire because the fire hydrant was missing. I realize times are rough, but why endanger everyone else for that?

Pretty shady...but, I guess the guy had to feed his kids one way or another.

Like what Paul Newman did in the beginning of Cool Hand Luke, just with hydrants and not parking meters

Maybe he had to go pee a lot?

Good that he was flushed out. Ralph L. Seifer, Long Beach

it's not just the iron casing, it's the value of the brass & copper inside. addicts in san francisco had quite the cozy relationship with one scrap yard, to the point where the addicts helped the owner sort his scrap in exchange for silence.

All he needs now is a fire engine, can´t belive what people will do for money, what a jerk.
Regards jesper from Denmark


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